Modern Fly Fishing: Google Earth>>

I was about halfway through an article about tandem nymphing when I said to myself “this is just boring. There are tons of articles on other blogs, and in books or magazines about this stuff. Everybody has heard this crap a dozen times before.” So I’ve decided to write about something a little different: using Google Maps and satellite imagery to find fish and explore new waters.

This is something I’ve been doing for years, and have really put to use out west where there is a lot of fishable water scattered across large tracts of remote land. Google Maps is an invaluable tool when adventuring and exploring anywhere. The amount of information about a stream, lake, or river that can be gleaned from quality satellite imagery is truly amazing.


With Google Maps I can sit on my couch and find high mountain meadows with tiny creeks, nameless hidden lakes, and the roads and trails to reach them. I am at heart a restless fisherman that enjoys fishing lots of different waters where the challenges, fish, and scenery offer variety not monotony. The adventure that comes with finding and trying new water is why I do this. Not every stream and pond is in a guide book, or on the DNR’s website. But, every stream, pond, and puddle is on Google Maps.


Google Maps for Streams and Rivers

Google Maps can be used for exploration and trip planning, or spotting new water someplace you’ve been a number of times. The detailed imagery allows me to point out and target individual runs in larger rivers or small streams. Knowing exactly where these spots are and how to get there can eliminate wrong turns and wasted time. On a famous western tailwater that can mean the difference between enjoying a hatch and hitting the hotel early because some local, whose driven these roads for the past thirty years, beat me to the punch.

Some rivers, like those found in the Ozarks, have long drawn out stretches of deep slow moving water. In spots like that individual logs, boulder piles, and shaded areas can even be identified using Google Maps. Knowing the size of water before fishing can help me plan on what gear to take. Will I need a long pole or a short one? What line weight should I use? Can I wet wade or would it be more comfortable to bring waders? Is it even wadable or do I need a boat of some kind? I can figure all of that out in advance while binge watching a TV series on Netflix. That’s more important than it may seem.

-The darker blue areas represent deep holes, while the white rippled areas show faster riffles / pocket water. 

In the west there are beavers everywhere, so much so that I’ve dedicated an entire paragraph to their obsessive building habits. They can engineer some impressive structures. I’ve seen beaver dams up to five feet in height and over a hundred feet long on some of the smallest mountain creeks I’ve ever explored. Some little streams that wouldn’t hold any fish bigger than an eight inch brook trout can have a couple real bruisers cruising around a big beaver pond hidden in a little meadow. With Google Maps I’ve been able to find and target beaver ponds with serious success on otherwise forgettable water that most people drive past on there way to more popular fishing.

A string of beaver ponds in a mountain meadow

Google Maps for Ponds / Small Lakes

Mountain lakes are a blast to fish, some mountain ranges and high tops can be dotted with hidden waters that offer unpressured fish with a beautiful backdrop. Satellite imagery reveals them all, so that even small ponds off the side of a trail become common knowledge. With Google Maps I can pick out which bank is optimal depending on the time of year. At ice off I prefer fishing deep, rocky, banks. Later in the year shallower water with lots of dead-fall and other structure can hold fish in close, were they can hunt for easy meals.


Furthermore, Google Maps can tell me what the water clarity is like, how much back cast space there is, are there beaver nests worth checking out, or creeks flowing in/out that may be worth a look.

The dark areas represent deeper water, where as the light green areas are shallow or shallower. There is a lot of dead-fall around a portion of the bank that can hold a lot of fish.

A string of beaver ponds in a mountain meadow

A small backwater cove with some flooded grass is perfect for tailing carp

Google Maps for Large Lakes and Impoundments

Large bodies of water is where this software really shines. It can cut back hours and hours of fruitless exploration. I can find shallow grassy water for carp, rocky points for bass, or flooded timber for crappie. Some private lakes offer hundreds if not thousands of docks that could hold fish. With Google Maps I can explore some of those from the sky and pick out likely spots where logs or brush may attract the attention of bass, pike, bluegill, or crappie. Knowing that I may be fishing flooded grass or lily pads allows me to plan ahead with weed guards that I otherwise wouldn’t include. Little details like that can make a huge difference.


I can’t begin to explain all the advantages Google Maps has on big water. I can find backwater coves, old sunken roads, bridges, and here I am trying to explain them all. It’s a lot.

The satellite images Google Maps provide are invaluable for fisherman, especially those who crave adventure and exploration into “uncharted” waters. Google Street view can also offer some important insight into a stream or lake’s characteristics because these images are high resolution pictures taken from ground level. Whether at a bridge crossing, or simply on a road that parallels a river, using the street view feature offers a realistic view of the water as if I’m standing right there.


On top of high resolution imagery, Google Maps has almost every half decent road mapped which means I can get directions almost anywhere. Google Maps on my phone allows me to save turn by turn directions for use when I don’t have reception. Even in remote locations it can still show my location and my movements with startling accuracy. Trailheads, lakes, streams, and rivers can all be marked on Google Maps for future use which makes returning somewhere, even years later, easy.


There are so many features that Google Maps offers I couldn’t possibly explain them all in an article interesting enough to keep somebody engaged. You’re welcome. Just to quickly list them: I can mark locations, print maps, measure distances, get turn by turn directions, even measure surface area all from the comfort of my home. Why do I need to measure surface area? I don’t know, but I can.  


My point is: using modern computer software can cut back time, energy, and even danger when exploring new waters or taking big trips. It doesn’t subtract from the actual experience of exploration and adventure, it adds to it. Without taking the time to research and fully vet a destination the chances of failure increase dramatically. Stepping into the unknown can be rewarding, eye opening, and even poetic. It can also just flat suck, to put it bluntly. Sometimes it’s not worth risking it.

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